Long books are the bane of my life. The size of a book can instanty wither my most sincere intention to read it. All through my training in literature I have carefully sidestepped triple-decker Victorian behemoths, maintained a respectful distance from the likes of Joyce and Dostoevsky, with the result that the longest single-volume books I’ve read (page-wise) are all anthologies, poetry or short story collections, complete or selected works of certain authors and things like that. On the other hand I could write about several serieses, if you’re asking for the longest narratives occurring in the same universe and (usually) written by the same author. It’s the longest single work of fiction or non-fiction that puts me in trouble. Therefore, although this will not feature in any longest-books list in the world, I must mention The Godfather.
Once again, this selection is partially because this is a book I really want to write about. A book that I read nearly ten years ago, in middle school and much before watching the films, back when it had felt too shocking and irresistible to lose interest in before finishing. I wouldn’t have remembered it was so long ago if the book hadn’t come up in a conversation with R sometime back, for I had (rather indiscreetly) proceeded to impose it upon her at the tender age of eleven or twelve. I followed up The Godfather with Omerta which came in the same volume. I haven’t read The Sicilian, nor any of the non-Puzo sequels. I don’t think I’ve ever gone back to the novel either, not when I watched the films, not when I was heavily reminded of it while reading Men of Tomorrow in the first year of college. Maybe if I read it again I’ll find it less impressive. Maybe I will read it one of these days. But then I am perfectly content with the way it is right now inside my head.
It’s a fact, marriageable and interesting (male, but also female) characters form the biggest minority in novels. This may be because the characteristics that make a good husband — especially a certain stability of temper and circumstances — are exactly the ones that ruin the chances of a good protagonist. This would’ve been a different post if the query was for a book whose main character I fancy, but none of these characters I’m thinking of (Harlequin, Macheath, Sherlock Holmes, Heathcliff, Lord Henry Wotton, Gora, Lord Vetinari, Lucifer in various avatars, even Humbert Humbert) is remotely good for marrying. Shadow from American Gods is a glorious exception.
Gaiman hits this admirable balance by creating a protagonist who used to be married, but with his wife recently dead he is a free man for the duration of the novel. Shadow’s husbanding (yes I know, move on) is flawless, he is still in love with his not-very-dead wife but not so much in love as to be unhealthily obsessed, he is nice and polite to other women, and at the end of ‘The Monarch of the Glen’ I think he finally gets together with someone else. I love how he is strong and silent but not unintelligent, does most things well without giving in to self-importance, the way he constantly strives towards the ordinary despite his undeniable extraordinariness. I’ve been re-reading American Gods (which has just finished ten years of publication) and loving every bit of the characterization of Shadow all over again, even though the ending of the novel continues to disappoint me a little.
I must add that Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice is likely to make a good husband as well, since he applies so much discretion in choosing his woman. But then, Austen left us no evidence to be too sure.
When I started filling up this challenge (and the other), I was looking ahead to a month with not much to do. I hate that kind of stupor, so writing about a book and a song each day seemed like a good routine to keep the mind from sinking. That plan has gone for a toss, of course, and I don’t particularly regret it.
Anyway, back to the subject of this post. To begin with, if there was a book whose protagonist was very much like me, I doubt I would’ve even been sitting at a desk in an ad firm (which is infinitely better than sitting at home and festering under the weather, nevertheless) writing this post. Well… no, that’s not strictly true. The best books are often written about people who are not particularly interesting in themselves. There must be books about people whose lives are quite like mine, and I’m afraid most of these books would be chick lit. I have not read them. The only chick lit that comes to my mind is Bridget Jones’ Diary, and I don’t feel like Bridget Jones at all. Which brings me to the point — do you fill this query with a character whose life is most similar to yours (and then, how do you manage to see your life whole?), or a character that feels the most like you?
This is a difficult and depressing book. Last year I gave it to R to read — she likes most of the books I like (and more) — and she didn’t take to it at all. Most people don’t. But all I remember feeling at the time of reading The English Patient was the overflowing relief at the fact that someone has written such a book at all. That such a book can be written, that such characters can exist and are acknowledged, that it makes you just a little less strange, which is a false sense of comfort, of course, but it’s better than many other things. I write of that particular kind of madness that springs out of intense misanthropy and intense ardour, the kind of life that’s lived by one’s own obsessions and creates its personal godheads, when your entire existence is one continuous act of worship. As I read this novel I divide my first-person loyalties between Almásy and Hana, who are both its protagonists, who are more similar to each other than you may care to think. I think Almásy wins out most of the times — with his heartlessness and his possessed love and his affinity for deserts and the way he turns history and philosophy to music — but at times I can’t really tell. :)
If it had been difficult to select an image for Day 9, it is near enough impossible to select an image that does justice to today’s post, so I’m cheating by putting up rough sketches made by Neil Gaiman himself when he was conceiving of The Sandman. These books (there are twelve trade paperbacks and numerous spin-offs and extras) are perhaps the most spectacular and uniformly brilliant collaborations of our generation. There are more artists than I can care to count and an equal number of excellent images, leave alone an artist like Dave McKean whose illustrations are crazy and unbelievable and each a masterpiece in itself.
Once again, I’m at a loss of words to describe a book for the uninitiated. All I can say is that everyone I know who has read The Sandman has been transformed by it, and there’s very little one can compare it to, or say it’s like this or like that. I’ve met people who read only comic books and people who read nothing but ‘serious literature’ who are equally enamoured with it, and I’ve met writers and artists who swear by it with similar devotion. Many a time I have connected with a fan of The Sandman instantly, even when we were strangers, and have managed to have fulfilling conversations even though we had nothing else in common. (This is usually not easy for me.) The Sandman is a faith and a lifestyle.
Another reason why this is a cheat post (and one that is true for Day 3/4, Day 5, Day 6 and a few more upcoming posts) is that I am trying to eliminate options for Day 30, which concludes this meme with Your Favourite Book Of All Time. I simply had to include The Sandman somewhere in the list, and this is the best place for it because Gaiman comes closest to being my all-time favourite author. My loyalty usually rests on a book-by-book basis. I am hugely overwhelmed by Terry Pratchett in Discworld, for example, but I don’t dig his non-Discworld writing. Funnily enough (especially for myself), I love pretty much everything Gaiman dishes out. I love his text novels and short stories and poems and minor comics and stuff for children. I even love his blogging (okay, maybe a little less than his books), and that’s quite a bit excessive, considering how little of that I do for other authors (or artists in any other form). I just love that man’s brain! — and I think he is the only one.
And he may have grown old and doesn’t look like that anymore, but that didn’t prevent him even the littlest bit from breaking a million hearts when he got married last year.
A book (in this case a series) that you’ve read, re-read, analyzed, speculated and fantasized about for the largest part of your life is bound to leave a strong enough imprint somewhere. Admitted that the world of Harry Potter is flawed and badly imagined. J. K. Rowling has barely done any world-building that bears up to the scope of the series, and the bits that go beyond the immediate necessities of her plot are fuzzy and dubious. For one, there aren’t enough adults in the world of Harry Potter — makes you really wonder where so many students released from Hogwarts every year go.
The visualization in the early Harry Potter films (at least the first three films) is also trite and unappealing, and pretty much the only official depiction of the world that I like are Mary GrandPré‘s illustrations for the American book covers. Admittedly, it is not a very fun world to live in — especially during the timeline of the book — if you aren’t one of Harry Potter’s best friends, and sometimes not even then. You are either missing out on the action and feeling resentful about it, or getting the action — which is worse, because no one in the series has any fun except Harry. (Okay, maybe Dumbledore, but who wants to be Dumbledore? Admiring him as a father-figure is another thing.) But then, this is a world that I’ve seen rising up from scratch and spreading and growing complex as I grew up, I feel familiar with it (and with its deficiencies too). When the events in the books are over, I believe it would be a pretty good place have a lifetime.
P.S. I would also have been perfectly happy as an Oompa Loompa in Mr. Wonka’s chocolate factory, but I don’t feel so good about the ownership passing on to Charlie. Little boys are delightful creatures (as are old men), but little boys grow up and young men are just a little complicated. :D